Is DES Harmful? Injuries and Your Legal Rights

Diethylstilbestrol (DES) is a synthetic hormone prescribed to pregnant women between 1940 and 1971 to prevent miscarriages and premature labor.  In 1971, the FDA issued a warning against the use of DES by pregnant women because it was found to be harmful to them and their unborn children.  DES products continued to be prescribed to pregnant women in other countries until the early 1980's.

DES Products

As early as 1953, it become known that DES did not actually prevent miscarriages, but doctors continued to prescribe it to pregnant women.  Other common indications for DES included:

  • As a postcoital contraceptive;
  • For postpartum lactation suppression;
  • As a treatment for advanced prostate cancer; and
  • As a treatment for advanced breast cancer.

Over the years, the accepted indications for DES continued to be narrowed and in1997, Eli Lilly, the last U.S. manufacturer and distributor of DES stopped making and marketing it.  DES continues to be marketed in developing countries for various indications and may be purchased from many online pharmacies.  DES is still commonly used in the U.S. in veterinary medicine.

DES Side Effects

Mothers who took DES have an increased risk of developing breast cancer.  Children of women who were exposed to DES in utero are at increased risk for various medical conditions.

  • Females – Females who were exposed to DES in utero have an increased risk of developing vaginal and cervical cancer.  They also have an increased risk of infertility, pregnancy complications, and abnormalities of the reproductive track.
  • Males – Males who were exposed to DES in utero have an increased risk of developing non-cancerous epididymal cysts, which has been associated with an increased risk of  testicular cancer.  They may also have sperm and semen abnormalities, although no link to infertility has been found.

DES Lawsuits

Although DES prescriptions are no longer being written, the impact of DES exposure is still being felt by many women and their children.  Moreover, the severity of third-generation DES exposure, if any, is not fully understood.  Because there is no test for determining whether a person has been exposed to DES, an accurate diagnosis may not be made until years or even decades later when symptoms of DES exposure begin to appear. 

One of the biggest hurdles in DES litigation is identifying the manufacturer of the drug.  DES was manufactured and marketed by many companies over the years.  Some jurisdictions have adopted a “risk contribution” theory of liability for DES cases.  Under this theory, a plaintiff does not have to prove which company manufactured the DES pills she took or to which she was exposed; she need only demonstrate that the defendant manufactured the same type of DES pills she took or to which she was exposed.  Nevertheless, whether you live in a jurisdiction that recognizes the “risk contribution” theory or not, you need an attorney who has the resources necessary to thoroughly investigate your case.

Getting Legal Help

The impact of DES exposure for mothers and their children (and potentially their grandchildren) can be devastating.  DES litigation is a very complex niche of product liability law.  If you believe you have been exposed to DES, you must hire an experienced DES attorney.  Doing so is your best chance of protecting your rights and increasing your likelihood of receiving the financial compensation you deserve.

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